How often are you called upon to stand in front of a group of colleagues, employees or senior managers to deliver a presentation?
If you are in sales or training, you expect to have to give presentations regularly as a part of your job. But for most of us, giving a presentation is regarded as something outside of our “real” job; something we have to do in addition to our real job.
It has become easy to dismiss a business presentation as a distraction. Preparing and delivering a presentation is seen as more of an obligation to be avoided that an opportunity to be embraced. We wait to be called upon to give them. We rarely seek them out. We think they keep us from getting our real work done.
Giving a presentation can even seem painful if we feel we are being called upon by others to give an account of ourselves and our work. It feels like we are being subjected to scrutiny or some kind of test. We may perceive our relationship to any audience as adversarial. We may be afraid we will be challenged with questions we can’t answer and the presentation space can begin to feel like enemy territory.
For those who perceive the business presentation as an ordeal to be endured and gotten through as quickly as possible, presentation space seems like the dentist’s chair. It does not have good associations. Yes, it needs to be clean, modern and functional, but we want to get as far away from it as we can, as soon as possible… so we can get back to work.
As audience members, we may think we go to too many presentations. We wish we were back at our desks, surrounded by familiar objects, where we can get real work done. We often bring our work with us to the presentation and multi-task. We expect, or may bring, food and drink and treat the presentation space like a lunch room. At least we can eat while we sit there.
We like to think of our office, our cube, our workstation, or even our laptop and mobile phones as our real workspace. This is where we get things done. This is where we go to do analysis; to make decisions; to design or code; to speak one-on-one with our direct reports, to communicate more broadly via email and texting, or update the multitude of electronic communications platforms that we now rely on to manage operations flow and human relationships. This is the space we “personalize” and where we keep our family pictures, toys, mementos and swag. This is how we measure our status and sense of self-worth: do I have an office or a cube? Do I have a window? How big is my desk? Do I have a company provided MacBook Pro or iPhone? We like to think that this is our true workspace.
Your real workspace
You might think this, but if you are an executive or manager you would be mistaken. Personal space, like an office, a cube or a workstation is your prep space. It is your locker. Your dressing room. A theatre director’s real work is not done in their office. A sports coach’s real work is not done behind a glass door. (Even if their doors are always open.) An actor’s work is not done in their dressing room. A player’s work is not done in the locker room or even in the weight room. That is where they prepare. Their real work is done in public space. On stage. On the field. Out in front of the groups of people they manage. Managing real people in real time happens in public space; it happens in presentation space.
Some executives and managers think their job is to make decisions. But their real job is to implement decisions. To achieve results. To help others make and implement decisions. You can make the best decisions in the world but if you fail to implement them, those decisions are meaningless. Implementation happens in space; and the more individuals there are involved in the implementation, the more public space you are going to need.
When you are giving a presentation, it is not a distraction from your work as a manager. This is your work. This is where your real work happens. You may wish you could avoid it, but this is what we are called to do as managers. We are called to reach audiences, transform their thinking and move them to action. To happen quickly and effectively, this requires a public forum in a public space.
We only go to too many meetings and presentations because too many of the presentations and meetings we go to are simply bad. They happen in spaces where the presenter doesn’t really know what they are doing and wish they were somewhere else. As members of the audience, we find ourselves sitting in rooms filled with other people wishing they were somewhere else too. If presentations and meetings were better, we wouldn’t have to have so many of the same meetings over and over.
We need to be better at giving presentations. Better management begins with better business presentations. And we need to begin by saying hello to our real work space: the presentation space.